April 30, 2011 -- Under threat of the federal government, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed key pieces of a medical marijuana law, saying she doesn't want to put state employees at risk of federal criminal charges.
"I will not subject my state employees to federal prosecution -- period," said Gregoire, who worries what would happen if the state started licensing medical marijuana dispensaries and growing operations, which are legal under state law, but not federal law.
The legislation in question, Senate Bill 5073, would create a system of state-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries, patient registries and cooperative growing gardens.
But the U.S. attorneys for Washington state, Mike Orsmby and Jenny Durkan, said in a letter to the governor on April 14 that marijuana use is still a federal crime and anyone helping make that use possible, such as a state employee at a patient registry, could be prosecuted.
"Growing, distributing and possessing marijuana in any capacity, other than as part of a federally authorized research program, is a violation of federal law regardless of state laws permitting such activities," Ormsby and Durkan wrote. "State employees who conducted activities mandated by the Washington legislative proposals would not be immune from liability under the Controlled Substance Act."
To punctuate the federal government's determination, federal agents raided three dispensaries in Spokane this past week.
"Federal raids in Spokane yesterday are an indication that we need to take the U.S. Attorney at his word," Gregoire said.
"I cannot disregard federal law and our two U.S. attorneys on the chance that state employees may never be prosecuted," Gregoire said. "What do you say to them if they are? What would you tell that employee?"
A union that represents thousands of state employees asked Gregoire to veto the bill.
Medical marijuana user Rob White, a paraplegic from being gunned down during a robbery 15 years ago, favors state control of dispensaries and growing operations, and better protection against arrest.
"I think as people who are sick and dying, should not have to live in fear of losing our freedom for using something that helps make life a little more bearable," White said.
A medical marijuana bill was approved in Washington in 1998, making it legal for patients to grow the the plant themselves or designate a caregiver to grow it for them. But since then, even though the state law does not allow for the sale of marijuana, marijuana dispensaries have been established across the state.
But while she did not approve the bill in full, Gregoire did approve parts of the bill, including cooperative patient grow operations, where qualified patients would be allowed to grow up to 99 marijuana plants in a garden together. Gregoire said she wants to continue working on the legislation.